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Great Joliet Prison Break-In event a success, officials say

The Joliet Prison Committee at its meeting this week discussed the results of the inaugural Great Joliet Prison Break-In event, held Aug. 25 at the old Joliet prison.

“Our whole suspicion that people will just want to go see this place, I mean, clearly it’s there,” Deputy City Manager Steve Jones said. “We had the kind of turnout and enthusiasm that we all expected.”

The event brought in between 3,000 and 3,500 people. Attendees came from a number of communities, including Shorewood, New Lenox and Channahon.

“To me, that’s exciting because that means we’ve got so much more potential,” said Greg Peerbolte, executive director for the Joliet Area Historical Museum. “Wait until we really get into Chicago big time and see those numbers go up. I think just drawing from the local area is good news in a number of ways.”

Jones said he is glad the city and the museum were able to put on the event.

“People drove by this place for a decade without knowing what the heck they could see, and they finally got a chance,” Jones said.

The Great Joliet Prison Break-In allowed the city and the museum to net $202,698.15 in total gross revenue. Funding will help pay for the old Joliet prison’s restoration costs.

Jones said he hopes the fundraiser can become an annual tradition.

“We’ll certain look to do this again,” he said.

Prison tours update

Public tours of the old Joliet Prison got underway last month and will continue to run through the end of November.

It is a 90-minute experience that showcases the prison yard and some of the facilities.

Peerbolte said they have about 51 tours booked.

Typically, 30 to 40 people are allowed to sit in on any given tour. They run twice a day at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Tuesdays and Thursdays are reserved for school groups and motor coach groups.

Tickets are purchased in advance, and waivers must be signed to participate in the tours.

“We’ve had 318 paying patrons through the prison,” Peerbolte said. “We’re looking at a gross revenue of approximately $5,485. That’s just for prison admission, that doesn’t count ancillary income that we’re seeing in the gift shop.”

The prison tours are staffed and ran by 13 volunteers.

Peerbolte said he thinks they’re doing a good job of keeping the tours educational.

“I think people are surprised to learn how much there is to see,” he said. “You have two dozen buildings in there. [There’s] a lot to see and hear about, and I think the way we’re interpreting it is changing some minds even among membership. You guys know, we did a trial run with our membership on these tours. … Some of them were on the fence about doing this. I fielded several calls and emails, [saying], ‘That was incredible.’”

Vendor for paranormal tour wanted

Also at the meeting, the committee reviewed its efforts to find a vendor to run paranormal tours at the west prison site.

The city and the museum have received two inquiries, to date.

“I think with stuff not quite happening how we hoped for prison east, we issued a [request for proposals],” Peerbolte said.

Plans for Evil Intentions to bring its haunts to the east prison site have stalled.

Jones said they have run into problems trying to obtain investors to place funding toward site improvements.

Peerbolte said the city and museum are looking to run paranormal tours at the west prison in a manner that is respectful of the site and its history.

“A good paranormal tour, in my mind, is a history tour at its core that kind of says, ‘this is what was reported out here in historic record, you decide if you think it’s haunted,’” he said.

Jones said the council could rescind its deal with Evil Intentions and go out to the market for additional request for proposals.

Mayor Bob O’Dekirk questioned if extending the length of the agreement would be in the city’s best interest and said it might help entice vendors.

Jones responded, saying that is something for the council to decide moving forward.

The city last year decided to execute an intergovernmental agreement with the State of Illinois, which owns the prison. At the time, officials expressed uncertainty in wanting to purchase the property.

Chairwoman Bettye Gavin said it might be the city’s best interest to wait until after the November general election to gauge the State of Illinois’ pulse as to how committed it is to the old Joliet prison.

“We don’t want to be caught in the middle,” she said.

Concerts at the prison

In another development, the committee weighed in on an idea raised during the meeting to host concerts at the prison.

Similar type events are held at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

The matter will be discussed further at a later date.

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